Sunday, March 22, 2009

C and O Canal Campsite Guide

So this long blog entry is my little piece of public service for those planning on biking the C and O Canal. I know that when I first went along the Canal, I was able to find some descriptions of the campsites but no pictures or anything that gave me a real feel for them. Hopefully this guide can serve as a planning tool for those who are doing the Canal for the first time or as a memory tool for those who are trying to recall where that "really neat" campsite was or which one had the lockhouse right next to it. This guide only covers the Park Service campsites along the way (there are private campgrounds as well). To learn more about biking the Canal, I would recommend two books: "The C&O Canal Companion" and "Linking Up: Planning your traffic-free bike trip between Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC". I carry both of them any time I bike the Canal. Finally, I should note that there are a few campsites that I do not yet have pictures of (I hope to fix that this summer). The missing campsites are all in areas where I normally bypass the Canal (the Slackwater/Williamsport bypass, or where the Western Maryland RailTrail runs parallel).

To start off, the C and O Canal is a National Historical Park and is thus maintained by the Park Service. Importantly, this means that the camping is free along the Canal. Campsites are located right on the trail every 5 to 10 miles of the Canal's length (with a few longer stretches here and there). Each campsite is basically a clearing with a picnic table, fire pit, port-a-potty, and a well-water pump. Many of them also have access to the Potomac River (though it is often muddy access).

Starting on the DC end of the trail, with pictures beneath each entry (Canal mileage in parentheses):

Swain's Lock (16.6) - This first campsite breaks a few of the Canal campsite rules: it is accessible by car and has running water (up near the lockhouse). Because of it's location and accessibility, this site often has many campers (occasionally of the loud/drunk variety), but is sufficiently sized for many groups. Finally, there is a secluded (secret) site here separated from the others - go into the camping area, then head down towards the river and upstream, follow the little path you find until it ends at this separated campsite.
Horsepen Branch (26.0) - Standard campsite in the woods, though it is pretty narrow and right on the trail. I frequently camp here since it is a good short ride from DC but far enough out that it is not crowded.

Chisel Branch (30.5) - Standard campsite.

Turtle Run (34.4) - Standard campsite.
Marble Quarry (38.2) - Standard campsite. The site has a section that is clear of trees and gets sun in the afternoon.

Indian Flats (42.2) - Standard campsite just past the Monocacy Aqueduct (0.2 miles).
Calico Rocks (47.6) - Nice deep campsite, lots of room for a large group.
Bald Eagle Island (50.3) - Standard campsite. Caution: railroad is near to the site and can be noisy at night.
Huckleberry Hill (62.9) - Standard campsite, somewhat crowded against the trail.
Killiansburg Cave (75.3) - Standard campsite, but crowded against the trail. Also, not much room here for any sizable group.
Horseshoe Bend (79.7) - Standard campsite. Best place to camp before the Slackwater detour at 84.4, since Big Woods has a water supply issue.
Big Woods (82.5) - This site is notable because, as the C&O Canal Companion says, "the water pump is rather inconveniently located a fifth of a mile downstream". This makes fetching water a chore. Note that this is also the last site before the Slackwater detour.
Opequon Junction (90.9) - Standard small campsite, a bit crowded onto the trail.

Cumberland Valley (95.2) - Standard campsite, nice trees for shade.

Jordan Junction (101.3) - Campsite relatively close to Williamsport. Supposedly has a funny smell sometimes because of a nearby tannery.
North Mountain (110.0) - Standard campsite on the side of a hill. Looks like a nice place to camp, though I have never stayed here myself.
Licking Creek (116.0) - Small campsite removed from the trail a bit.
Little Pool (120.4) - Nice secluded campsite between the Potomac and Little Pool.
White Rock (126.4) - Standard campsite. (no picture)

Leopard's Mill (129.9) - Standard campsite. (no picture)

Cacapon Junction (133.6) - Standard campsite with nice view of two rivers and some railroad bridges. This is opposite the point where the Cacapon River enters the Potomac. (no picture)
Indigo Neck (139.2) - Campsite at the foundations of an old lockhouse (and lock).
Devil's Alley (144.5) - Nice campsite opposite a good size mountain that you can climb on if you have extra time. Also, good (non-muddy) access to the river at this campsite.
Stickpile Hill (149.4) - Nice site in the woods. Has a small bridge over a ditch, which makes it even more fun.

Sorrel Ridge (154.1) - Large campsite at a lock. Note that the sign is missing, though it would be pretty hard to miss the campsite itself.
Purslane Run (156.9) - Standard campsite.
Town Creek (162.1) - Possibly my favorite campsite on the whole Canal, Town Creek is many times larger than most of the other sites. Additionally, the view of the river and mountains opposite is great.
Potomac Forks (164.8) - Campsite at the point where the Potomac forks into the "North Branch" and the "South Branch". This campsite is situated at a lock with a standing lockhouse and a railroad bridge. The canal is watered here (with many water lilies growing in the Canal) and has a number of small wooden bridges.
Pigman's Ferry (169.2) - This campsite is a fenced-off area surrounded by farmland. There are not many trees here, so shade will be harder to find.

Iron Mountain (175.4) - Large, deep campsite.

Evitt's Creek (180.0) - The trainyard here is so close that you can see the trains sitting just across the canal, which means occasional noise at night.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NationBuilders Bike Route

So I have been working on a bike route which I am calling the NationBuilders Bike Route (link here). The route is themed after Early American industry (Canals, Railways, etc.) and was inspired by my realization that by traveling the C and O Canal, then the Great Allegheney Passage trail, you would be pretty close to the Erie Canal and were starting to make a big loop along historical industrial routes that are also conveniently bike-friendly (about a third of it is on trails). For the portions that are not covered by the above routes, I use rail trails or Adventure Cycling Routes to patch the gaps. I have personally ridden about 75% of this route and can say that it contains some really great areas. The only problem is that the route is suprisingly long: 1500 miles (!).
The route basically goes like this, starting from DC (but you can start anywhere you want):

1. Leave DC on the C and O Canal heading towards Cumberland. The Canal is 183 miles that requires almost no riding on roads (hopefully they will raise enough to connect through at the Slackwater area). The trail is flat, in the woods, with occasional historical sites or small towns. I can't say enough good things about the canal - easily my favorite place to bike.

2. At the end of the Canal in Cumberland, MD, you can pick up the Great Allegheney Passage, which is a rails to trails crushed limestone path going about 140 miles from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. This is also a nice route - slightly easier rolling than the canal and slightly more civilization than the canal, but you have to pay for camping.

3. Next is the Pittsburgh section, which I patched together from the excellent and free Bike Pittsburgh bike map. Just outside of the city (Coraopolis), you pick up the route laid out in the Cleveland/Pittsburgh Connector (a map set available from Adventure Cycling). We use this route for 57 miles into the Lordstown area.

4. At this point, you can pick up the Western Reserve Greenway, a 42 mile rail trail that runs straight as an arrow north until it hits Astabula on Lake Erie.

5. At Astabula, you can pick up the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route, which basically runs along the lake on decent biking roads. This route heads through Buffalo and into Niagara Falls (Well, not "into" Niagara Falls...).

6. From the Falls, you can continue along the Erie Canal all the way to Albany (350 miles). The Erie Canal has bike paths for some portions and local roads for other portions. Regardless, it is a nice ride through many small towns along a still-active Canal.

7. From Albany, I invented a 50 mile route along the Hudson River that takes you south to meet up with the Adventure Cycling Atlantic Coast route in Rhinebeck. From here, Adventure Cycling takes you through mid-state NY, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and into DC (while avoiding NYC, Philly, and Baltimore).

I would really like to do this route at some point, but it is probably a good month of riding on a mountain bike. The one great benefit that the route has is that many (many!) people live close to it and could therefore do the entire trip without having to fly or ship a bike - you can just roll out from your house, then roll back in a month later!